Getting healthy for pregnancy
January 14, 2014
By Dori McLennan, MD
It’s a new year and whether you are planning to start a family or expecting a return visit from the stork, it is a good idea to prepare for pregnancy. Although pregnancy is a natural process, we often have patients ask how they can best prepare their bodies for one of life’s greatest journeys.
Below are answers to a few common questions that I often receive from my patients:
What if I am taking birth control?
Depending on the type you use, you may want to stop birth control a few months in advance of planned conception. Birth control suppresses ovulation and impacts fertility. The good news is the affects of birth control do not last long. For example, we recommend that women finish a pack of birth control pills, have their next menstrual cycle and then go through one additional full cycle before attempting to conceive. During this time, it is important to use a barrier method of contraception (condoms) if you plan to engage in sexual intercourse.
An IUD (Intrauterine Device) can thin the lining of the uterus. I recommend that patients with an IUD have it removed and then wait for a normal period prior to attempting conception. This could take approximately 45 days if your menstrual cycle length was normal prior to insertion of the IUD.
Make sure to check with your physician to ensure you know how to best manage your birth control.
When should I start taking prenatal vitamins?
Don’t wait until pregnancy is confirmed to start taking your vitamins! Any over the counter prenatal vitamin is sufficient. If you are considering conception, start taking folate (folic acid) right away. Just be sure your supplement contains 800mcg of folate/folic acid. Pure folic acid/folate is available as a separate supplement and can be taken instead of a full prenatal vitamin.
Do I need to see my provider before pregnancy?
In most cases, this isn’t necessary. If you are generally healthy and have been keeping up to date on routine tests such as well woman examinations and pap tests, you do not need to see your provider in advance of pregnancy. If you have medical conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure or obesity, it is best to consult with your provider. Once you have a positive home pregnancy test, call your provider’s office for a “New OB” visit, which usually happens between 7 and 10 weeks from the start of your last menstrual period.
What about exercise and weight?
During pregnancy, try to exercise five times per week for 30 minutes minimum Cardio exercise is very important and weight lifting can continue with modifications in some cases. There is no set “limit” of exercise, but some pregnancy conditions may limit your exercise and your provider can help determine those limits. If you don’t exercise regularly, a perfect time to start is while you are planning for pregnancy or even during pregnancy!
As for weight, obesity carries increased risks to you and the baby such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Keeping weight gain during pregnancy in the range that is specified by your provider is important. If you know that you need to lose some weight, making every effort possible to achieve that goal before you are pregnant will set you up for a much healthier and comfortable pregnancy.
What about alcohol and foods to avoid?
As a general rule, you should avoid alcohol throughout pregnancy. That said, if you didn’t realize you are pregnant and had a few drinks, do not panic. Follow up with your doctor as soon as possible to address any concerns.
One tip: if you are trying to conceive and are passed the midpoint of your cycle (when you could have ovulated and become pregnant), be very careful about having alcohol or other medications that might harm a developing embryo. Your provider can help guide you on specific medications to ensure that you’re on the right track.
Several months prior to conception, it is best to avoid mercury-rich fish such as tuna, sea bass, king mackerel, swordfish, shark and halibut. Mercury can harm the developing brain and nervous system of a fetus.
In all cases, we strongly recommend that you avoid cigarettes. They can decrease fertility and lead to many complications during pregnancy.
Remember: Planning a pregnancy is always better because it gives you a chance to get as healthy as possible and give your child the best start in life. You can find out more by visiting www.Swedish.org/ob.
Ed. note: This is the first post in a four-part series to inspire Ballard residents to keep health in mind as we kick off the new year. Each week will highlight a different health topic, from women's health and nutrition to sports medicine and cancer care and prevention. Additionally, Ballard businesses such as Ketch Shop, Bastille, Olympic Athletic Club and Suite 300 Skin Care are offering promotions as part of the 'My Health' series.